Man Booker reading 3 - A Tale For The Time Being

>> Saturday, October 12, 2013

Man Booker reading 1 - Harvest and The Kills

Man Booker reading 2 - The Luminaries

Feeling a bit discouraged after spending so much time on books I didn't enjoy, I decided on my next to start on my flight back from Jordan (oh, how I love my kindle!). That was Ruth Ozeki's A Tale For The Time Being, and I knew within a few pages that it was going to be ok :)

Ruth, a writer, finds a diary in a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the beach of the Canadian Pacific island she lives in. It was writen by Nao, a 16-year-old Japanese schoolgirl, who says she doesn't have much time left, and she intends to write up the story of her amazing great-grandmother Jiko, a woman prominent in the Japanese feminist movement in the early 20th century, and who's currently a 104-year-old Buddhist nun. In fact, though we do get to know the wonderful Jiko, we get even more about Nao herself: about her difficulties in fitting into life in Japan after spending her formative years in Silicon Valley, about her struggles in school, where her sadistic classmates bully her in horribly inventive ways, and about her sucidal father, who is having as much trouble as Nao. As she reads the diary, Ruth becomes more and more involved in Nao's life and obsessed with finding out what's become of her, especially as Ruth suspects the lunchbox might have been washed away by the 2011 tsunami.

A Tale For The Time Being is a wonderful book. It's as much the story of Nao and Ruth, whose lives resonate with each other in unexpected ways, as an exploration of Zen Buddhism and quantum theory, and an intensely spiritual novel. I realise this might put off some readers; in fact, it might have put me off, because my immediate assumption would be that it's a show-offy, up-its-own-arse thing. But it's not, I swear. It's all done in a very, well, humble and loving way, a bit like the character of Jiko, Nao's great-grandmother. It also doesn't feel like an add-on, but it's intimately linked with the story itself. I really liked it. It was an A-.

Tomorrow: We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo


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